Earth Hour power drop sometimes small but event sends green message: organizers

The Canadian Press

March 29, 2009

The energy-saving numbers were crunched Sunday and on paper, it might not look like some provinces did much to mark Earth Hour and yet organizers of the event and hydro providers said the lights-out event was a success in Canada.

Ontario appeared to have one of the largest drops in power consumption. Toronto recorded a 15.1 per cent power drop and a six per cent province-wide dip in electricity use Saturday night between 8:30 p.m. and 8:45 p.m., local time.

To the west, however, Manitoba reported a small spike in electricity use in the 15 minutes after the official start of Earth Hour.

Blame it on Mother Nature. The province is working around the clock to battle the rising waters of the Red River and potentially one of the worst floods in years. And Saturday night, the temperature was sitting around -8 C with a wind chill making it feel like -13 C.

"Obviously, all of us are running our furnaces," Anita Mitchell, a spokeswoman for Manitoba Hydro, said from Winnipeg.

British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia said there were reports of about a one per cent drop in power consumption, figures that utilities in all three provinces heralded as a success.

Figures from several provincial utility providers were not available Sunday.

Regardless of the numbers, the spirit of Earth Hour is sending the message to decision-makers that the public wants action on climate change, said Keith Stewart of World Wildlife Fund-Canada.

"It’s fun to see how much electricity demand drops… but factors like weather can come into play if it’s a cold night," he said.

Earth Hour, which began in Australia in 2007, grew last year to 400 cities worldwide.

This year, from the Great Pyramids of Egypt to the Colosseum in Rome to the Empire State building in New York, illuminated patches of the globe went dark Saturday. It’s believed nearly 4,000 cities and towns in 88 countries dimmed non-essential lights from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Across Canada, thousands participated in Earth Hour. A huge crowd gathered at Toronto’s city hall for a free concert as the iconic CN Tower slipped into darkness.

On the East Coast, about 250 people gathered as gathered on Halifax’s Grand Parade to watch Mayor Peter Kelly turn off the city hall’s lights.

In Regina, the lights were dimmed at the Saskatchewan legislature, one of the most recognizable buildings in the province.

Several Vancouver landmarks switched off, including the Science World dome and city hall.

The timing this year’s Earth Hour is critical, environmental activists said, as leaders met Sunday in Bonn, Germany to start crafting a successor to the Kyoto Accord. The climate change discussion are due to culminate in Copenhagen, Denmark in December.

In Bonn, the United Nations’ top climate official, Yvo de Boer, called Earth Hour a clear sign that the world wants negotiators seeking a climate change agreement to set an ambitious course to fight global warming.

"Earth Hour was probably the largest public demonstration on climate change ever," de Boer told delegates from 175 nations.

"Its aim was to tell every government representative to seal a deal in Copenhagen. The world’s concerned citizens have given the negotiations an additional and very clear mandate."

Some environmentalists, however, panned the event, saying Earth Hour sends the wrong message.

"It’s a terrible idea," said Lawrence Solomon, executive director of Energy Probe.

"It is telling us that conservation means sitting in the dark, doing without."

Conservation is not supposed to bring hardship, rather it should convince people to use energy more wisely, Solomon said.

-With files from The Associated Press

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